Minutes after ingesting sago palm seeds they found in their South Carolina yard, dogs Maisy and Murphy were vomiting continuously and in desperate need of medical help
Dogs killed by Sago Palm
Credit: Stephanie Evans

Stephanie and Tony Evans are experiencing a pet owner's greatest heartbreak. The couple recently lost their two beloved dogs Maisy and Murphy. Worse yet, the canines' deaths were sudden and unexpected.

In hopes of protecting other pet owners from the tragedy they experienced, Stephanie and Tony are sharing how a prevalent plant, the sago palm, led to the death of their dogs.

The Evanses live in Western Springs, Illinois, but recently purchased a vacation home in Callewassie Island, South Carolina. In March, the couple, with Maisy and Murphy in tow, traveled to South Carolina for a month to set up the new home and enjoy the state's warm weather.

During this trip, on April 3, the Evans family was enjoying time out in the yard of their South Carolina home when Stephanie noticed Murphy and Maisy eating what she thought could be crab apples off the lawn. Thirty minutes later, both of the large dogs started vomiting and couldn't stop. Distressed over the violent change in her pets' health, Stephanie called Coastal Vet Critical Care for help.

palm plant
Credit: getty

"I described the seed, and they said to get them in as soon as we could as they thought it was the toxic sago palm seed," Stephanie tells PEOPLE of how she explained the situation to a vet.

Used to living in Illinois, the Evanses understandably knew little about sago palms — a type of prehistoric cycad plant, not a palm, that is often sold as a house plant or planted outside in warmer, humid climates, like those found in the southeastern U.S, according to Better Homes & Gardens.

palm plant
Credit: getty

Unfortunately, these common plants, and their seeds, are also poisonous and dangerous for people, cats, dogs, and horses to ingest. The ASPCA says symptoms of sago palm ingestion in pets include "vomiting, melena, icterus, increased thirst, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, bruising, coagulopathy, liver damage, liver failure, death," and advises owners who think their pets have ingested part of a sago palm to contact a vet immediately.

The Evanses responded to Maisy and Murphy's emergency quickly and thoroughly. After Stephanie contacted Coastal Vet Critical Care, Tony rushed both the dogs to the animal hospital. Maisy and Murphy started receiving treatments to combat the effects of the sago palm less than two hours after ingesting the plant's seeds.

Dogs killed by Sago Palm
Credit: Stephanie Evans

"I thought that with all they threw up, that most of the poison would not have been absorbed. They did everything they could, charcoal and a lot of IV medications," Stephanie says of what happened once her dogs arrived at the animal hospital.

Even with the Evanses quick reaction time, the poisonous sago palm worked its way into the pets' systems "so fast" that a vet told the family that Maisy "was not going to make it" not long after the dogs arrived at the hospital.

"It's still so awful.  This was a healthy, happy dog one day prior," Stephanie says of Maisy's fate. Before ingesting the sago palm, the 4-year-old Boxer that the Evanses adopted in 2016 was a healthy dog who loved both naps and exercise.

Initially, there was hope that Murphy would pull through since the 1-year-old dog responded to treatments when Maisy did not.

"The vet felt Murphy was doing well enough to go home, and we were told it was okay to drive back to Illinois. We needed a change of scenery," Stephanie recalls.

Upon arriving back at home, Murphy was lethargic and "depressed" by no longer having Maisy around. When Murphy's recovery seemed to stall, the Evanses took the dog to their local vet, where the couple discovered Murphy was going through liver failure caused by the sago palm seeds.

Dogs killed by Sago Palm
Credit: Stephanie Evans

"The toxin won. We had to make the decision to put Murphy down right then, as he was so sick," Stephanie says.

After enduring this horrible ordeal, the Evanses began to talk to other pet owners about the toxic plant that killed their pets and were surprised to find that few pet parents — including those in South Carolina, where the sago palm is more common — knew how dangerous the plant could be.

Stephanie says that she has now made it her mission to "educate people about the danger of this plant" in honor of her late devoted dogs.

"Not many people are aware of the danger of this plant. If a child were to eat it, the same thing could happen — liver failure," she says. "How is it that this plant is sold and planted in so many yards, and sometimes it is indoors?"

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The Evanses have been sharing their story on social media with the hashtag #maisynmurphysmission. They have already accumulated over 12,000 shares on their posts, a hopeful sign their message is getting across and potentially saving lives.

"I am a firm believer that things happen for a reason, and there has to be a silver lining somewhere.  That silver lining is preventing this from happening to some other family. Our dogs were such big parts of our family, and their loss has hurt so much," Stephanie says of why she chose to share her devastating story.

To learn more about the sago palm, its effect on pets, and what to do if you think your pet has ingested this toxic plant, visit the VCA Animal Hospital's webpage about sago palms.